Airline Special Services - TSA With Special NeedsIf you’ve booked a flight online you may have noticed a check box for “Special Services” and wondered what that meant.  I found out on a recent trip that it represents an invaluable, FREE service for passengers flying with medical challenges and special needs. It makes the logistics of TSA security lines, luggage, boarding and deplaning manageable for families traveling with a special needs child.

I’ve never flown alone with my special needs daughter – her luggage and equipment alone take a small village to manage, or at least the extra support of my husband and 16 year old daughter. So when I made plans to take her to the National Ability Center in Park City I was excited for the camp, but apprehensive about the journey. Visions of struggling to get her, her wheelchair, car seat, meds and my stuff through TSA terrified me.   Thinking about how I was going to install her car seat, stow our bags, get her seated, and fold down her wheelchair for gate check – all while carrying my non-ambulatory child – made me break out in a cold sweat. I checked the “Special Services” box when booked our flight and hoped for the best.

Our experience with airline Special Services and TSA

After checking our bag, a Special Services attendant was assigned to us by the airline. I almost felt guilty as she led the way to the front of the TSA line, then put our our carry ons onto the conveyor, while I focused on going through security with my daughter.  The attendant then toted the car seat and carry ons while I pushed my daughter all the way out to the satellite terminal. The agent at the gate offered to check my carry on for free, giving me one less thing to worry about, then said she’d make sure that we boarded first in order to have plenty of time to get my daughter settled.

Like clockwork, the flight attendant on the plane installed the car seat for me while I followed behind carrying my daughter.  Another attendant came out to fold down my daughter’s wheelchair. We settled into our seats, no sweat.  Quick note – The airlines will provide a transfer chair to take those in a wheelcahir to their seat – my daughter can’t sit in a standard wheelchair so I carry her.

Our next challenge was deplaning, picking up our bags at baggage claim, and somehow getting everything out to the rental car. Special Services did not disappoint, he might as well been Superman. We were met at the gate and assisted to baggage claim. But it didn’t stop there, our new best friend loaded up our bags, then pushed our cart and waited for us at the rental car counter. He even loaded everything into the car for me!  Now that’s service.

All experiences may not be the same, but in this case I was pleasantly surprised.  Having that option definitely makes traveling with your special needs child a lot more doable.  I’ll test it out again in a couple of weeks when we have a 7 hour fly with a plane change – fingers crossed!